GOP Hopefuls Throw Down in Vegas Debate

The final Republican debate of the year proves contentious and energetic ... and ends with a vow from Donald Trump.

By Al Perrotta Published on December 16, 2015

The 2016 Republican candidates met Tuesday night in Vegas to debate a buffet of topics tied to national security. It turned into a food fight.

As expected, much of the flinging was directed toward front-runner Donald Trump. His several dust-ups with former Florida governor Jeb Bush were particularly messy. Bush described Trump as “a chaos candidate and he’d be the chaos president” and said that Trump could not “insult his way to the Presidency.” His proposals were “not serious,” even “crazy.” Trump shot back by assuring America that with “Jeb’s attitude we are never going to be great again, that I can tell you.” He also mocked Bush’s toughness. “Yeah, you’re a tough guy, I know.”

The food fight, with Cruz and Trump buddy-buddy

Ted Cruz did not tangle with Trump despite CNN’s best efforts to gin up trouble. The Texas senator said, “I understand why Donald” made the proposal about Muslim immigration. Notice the friendly use of his first name. He brushed aside his own leaked critique of Trump’s fitness. CNN’s Dana Bash tried to sic Trump on Cruz only to see the billionaire actually retract his attack on Cruz as a “maniac.” “He has a fine temperament,” said Trump with a big grin. “Don’t worry about it.” The two then struck a pose. Not since Martin & Lewis has Vegas seen a buddy-buddy act to match Trump & Cruz’s routine.

Other pairings were not so polite. Cruz vs. Rubio, Rubio vs Paul, Paul vs Christie, Chris Christie vs anyone who hasn’t been an executive. John Kasich and Carly Fiorina against the bickering of the other candidates. Ben Carson had started his night with a moment of silence for the victims of the San Bernardino terror attack. Amid the crosstalk and interruptions, a few more silent moments would have been welcomed.

Still, though the debate featured pyrotechnics worthy of a show at Treasure Island, underneath was a serious, substantive debate. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, for example, had complex clashes over immigration and NSA data collection.

Rand Paul also engaged Rubio on immigration and the details of his Gang of 8 proposal, saying his position holds “more allegiance to Chuck Schumer” than conservative policy. From his non-interventionist perch, Paul blasted Christie on his call for a no-fly zone in Syria. Christie suggested he’d take down any Russian planes “stupid enough” to think he is the same “feckless weakling” the current president is.  Said Paul, “If you are in favor of World War III, you have your candidate.” Paul then took a cheap shot at Christie over the Bridgegate scandal. As any Vegas comic would tell you, he blew past his punchline.

Christie did not retaliate. Instead, he turned his attention back to damage done this nation by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, then challenged Paul on the no-fly zone. Christie noted we don’t have one now. “How’s it working so far?”

Fiorina Tracks with Christie, Carson Promises to Stay

Carly Fiorina tracked with Christie, knocking the collected senators on stage who’ve never had to make executive decisions and blasting Hillary Clinton. She also brought out Margaret Thatcher’s quote, “If you want something talked about, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” It wasn’t her only nod to her sex. She mentioned her battle with breast cancer, her starting as a secretary, and having heard every “b-word in the book.” Twitter came alive with possible b-words for Fiorina.

Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO detailed how far the government has gotten behind the technology curve in fighting terrorism. She also blasted the Department of Homeland Security’s refusal to check the social media profile of those seeking visas. “Every parent is checking social media, employees are doing it, but our government can’t do it?!”

Carson, who made his fame saving the lives of children, was asked whether he’d be comfortable ordering military actions that could kill thousands of innocent children. He compared it to the situation when he had to tell patients he was going to open their head.

You know, later on, you know, they really realize what’s going on. And by the same token, you have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by 1,000 pricks.

Carson also affirmed toward the end of the debate that, despite previous grumbling that he would leave the GOP if there were a brokered convention next summer, he wasn’t going anywhere.

Back to Trump, of Course

Which returns us again to Donald Trump, as it always seems to with this campaign. He defended his call to temporarily keep out Muslim immigrants, despite what it would do to our Muslim allies. He also defended his call to block parts of the internet, despite the First Amendment. And he defended his promise to go after the families of terrorists, despite it violating the Geneva Convention and despite scattered boos from the audience. “These are people who want to kill us, folks.”

But ever the flamboyant showman — in a town that’s known its share — Donald Trump saved his best for the end.

Panelist and conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt said his listeners are worried Hillary Clinton will win the White House if Trump runs as an independent. “Are you ready to assure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans?”

“I really am,” Trump replied. “I’ll be honest, I really am.”

The Donald then expressed his “great respect for the people I have met through this process” and declared “I am totally committed to the Republican Party.”

Did Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus wander into the casino at the Venetian Hotel after the debate? Who knows? But hearing Donald Trump say that he was staying in the fold must have felt like hitting the jackpot.


Here’s the full transcript of the Republican debate, courtesy of The Washington Post.


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